Soft baiting tips

Soft baiting tips

Pete ‘PJ’ Jones offers up key soft-bait pointers to help practitioners at all skill levels.

Fishing technique

The overall concept of fishing is not complicated: work out where the fish are and put something in front of them. However, just how you manage this, and then convert the bites induced, are more complicated. Here are a few tips to help you succeed...

  • Learn to find fish without a fish-finder, even if you have one.
  • Cast as far as you can. The more ground your soft-bait (SB) covers while in the water, the greater the chance of getting a bite. Exception: your fish-finder shows you’re over a ball of baitfish with predators under them; instead, drop your SB vertically. 
  • ‘Work’ the soft-bait once the line stops running out (more on this below); slight exception if the line stops running out because the bait’s been taken and your ‘customer’ is swimming towards you.
  • As your SB drops after you have cast, watch the line like a hawk. Fish will often grab your bait and run away with it. You’ll see the line suddenly straighten and then run out faster; or the opposite, when the line suddenly stops running out and the curve becomes more vertical. Lots of my biggest SB snapper have been nailed on the drop, as have most of my kahawai and more than half my kingfish.
  • I’ve learned this more and more over the years: Don’t strike with a great big jerk. Instead, fish the SB as you would a circle hook. Wait for the fish to run away with the SB a bit, then smoothly and steadily apply pressure. A quick strike will often pull the SB right out of the fish’s mouth. 
  • Some folk are keen on dragging soft-baits, and NZ Fishing News has run several items about this technique over the years. Paddle-tails work best for this, weighted 50% or 100% more than equivalent-sized jerk baits being cast forward. You’re relying on the soft-bait skittering over sand or mud and kicking up a disturbance to attract your intended catch. It’s not for me though, because (a) I find it boring and (b) it’s never been as productive for me as what I do. 
  • If your hook catches on the bottom, jam your thumb on the spool, rod pointed straight at where the terminal tackle has caught, and pull. That way you won’t break the rod or strip the reel’s gears. If possible, manoeuvre the boat around and pull from different directions. More about getting out of weed later in this article.

Fishing the wash

Wash-fishing SBs is a bit of a different deal. I find it magically effective for catching big snapper in winter. Wash fishing with SBs has produced about 15 snapper bigger then 85cm for me in the last calendar year, with several occurring in places I’d never fished before. 

  • You need a good lot of white water, where waves slam onto a reef or rock face from deep(ish) water. Shallow water’s okay on occasion, but this territory is more reliable.
  • Cast as near to the reef/face as you can. Fish have their hiding places in ledges, overhangs, nooks and cervices, so it’s a good idea to drop your bait close by; predators use the white water for cover. The wash of the ebbing water will start your SB coming back towards you, like a stunned little baitfish that’s been feeding on something on the rock and been caught out by the wave. 
  • The magazine articles all say that spinning reels are the only type that are any good for this sort of SB fishing. Wrong. Baitcasters are called that because they’re very accurate at casting baits. Accuracy counts for heaps in wash fishing – I expect to get within a metre of my target with my spinning reels, but within a foot (30cm) using my baitcasters. 
  • Don’t anchor. Be prepared to move about, including if you’ve hooked a good fish. More on working big fish out of tough territory below. 
  • It’s stealth as much as access to varied habitat that’s important.

The soft-baits themselves

Action: In my opinion, action is most of it, ahead of colour, shape and even size. I think that’s why some brands usually don’t work as well as others of equivalent size. I’ve still caught plenty of good fish on less flexible SBs, but the difference is noticeable, even when using added scents.

Colour: I’ve pondered this aspect for some years. I first applied the old trout-fishing rule of bright for bright conditions, dull for dull conditions. Then I went through a phase of ‘the more I see, the less of a pattern I see’. Now I think the SBs with contrasting colours do better than the others, but the contrast doesn’t need to be as marked as the Nuclear Chicken sort. Even the contrast within a Z-Man Smoky Shad is enough, or a Gulp! Sapphire Shine.

Scent: I’m still undecided about scent. My logic tells me a lure won’t bring in more customers by its scent, but some do work better for me with the extra goo applied. I have a mate whose theory about Gulps is that their success, relative to competitors, is nothing to do with the scent and everything to do with UV reflection/refraction. Could be.

Pattern and size: I would say that 5-inch jerk shads are the go-to for most successful soft-bait fishers in NZ waters. My experience over the years on the Northland coast is that these work as well as 7-inch baits in the summer months, whereas many magazine articles stress the importance of going up to the larger size. I fish 5-inch jerk shads almost exclusively.

In deeper water I like to make the most of paddle tails on the drop, and curly-tailed grubs for dragging along, as well as on the drop (using heavier jig-head weights than for jerk shads).

There’s a delicate issue of expense with Gulps in summer when leatherjackets and squid are at their pillaging best. Z-Mans, BioBaits and Mister Twisters resist damage better and cut down on significant expense. I personally don’t think they work as well, so just grit my purse. Other brands – let price be your guide. ‘Cheap from The Warehouse’ is a waste of money.

The unstoppable big snapper

You hear it all the time: “I got this big hit on the line, but it was a big old unstoppable snapper and I lost it.” Or, “It went into the foul and I lost it…” Useless intelligence for me, since much of the time that’s where I’m hooking them to start with. Here’s how to get them aboard... 

  • I learned the hard way that cranking up the drag and trying to wrestle big fish out of the rough is asking to lose them. 
  • Towing a lot of line around will tire a fish as much as battling shorter line and a cranked-up drag. (Extreme problem, but the same stuff in a way: once you have 100m of 0.5kg true breakingstrain line out, it’ll usually break under its own weight.) This is the point of ‘playing’ a fish. And, just as in big game fishing with heavy tackle, be prepared to manoeuvre your boat around to chase and assist the fight, too. 
  • Though my ideas were developed while fishing in and around the wash and amongst rocky reefs, the techniques obviously work out in the open, too. Generally, I run no more than 2kg drag (on anything up to 9kg of true breaking-strain line). I occasionally increase pressure with a judicious thumb on the spool for short periods of time. 
  • Line breaks more quickly running over rocks (and even weed) when very tight, but can brush against them without disaster under less tension. Braid line will actually cut through weed if you let it run, and a fish will pull the line after it to achieve just that.
  • Fish pull against direct pressure; the harder you pull against a fish moving away from you, the harder it will pull in that direction. Manage fish by manoeuvring off to the side of their run and applying sideways pressure.
  • Aim to eventually get yourself vertically above the fish. As soon as you have it coming up vertically, you have it beaten. It’ll dive back down a few times and maybe run away again, but the further it goes, the more line drag it has to make it tire.
  • Do not crank up the drag as the fight goes on. If anything, loosen it! A shorter length of line out should mean less, not more, drag.
  • If the fish gets the line tangled in weeds, loosen the line right off, so there’s just a bit of tension to keep the hook seated, and the fish will often swim the line free. Remember that running braid line will eventually cut through weed and kelp. Out of interest, I timed this strategy when I had a 90cm snapper caught in the weed and against some rock once. I was in about eight metres of water. From when I felt the line jam to when I got it free took 13 minutes and 25 seconds. From then until the fish was safely aboard the kayak – two minutes.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

December 2017 - Pete Jones
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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